Week in Review: Redistricting, COVID-19, Jobs & more

U.S. Census Bureau Counts Confirm that Democrats’ Redistricting Plan is Unconstitutional and Unlawful.
The official 2020 decennial counts released by the U.S. Census Bureau on August 12 confirm that the Democrats’ redistricting plan, HB 2777, violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law, as well as comparable provisions of the Illinois Constitution. Accordingly, no lawful redistricting plan was effective on June 30, 2021. The Illinois Constitution is clear that responsibility for the plan has shifted to the bipartisan Legislative Redistricting Commission.
“Just as we predicted, the maps that were drawn by Illinois Democrats in a closed room and without public input, and signed by Governor Pritzker, have proven to be unusable and unlawful given the release of the U.S. Census data,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. “It is now up to the Legislative Redistricting Commission to draw the fair maps our state so desperately needs.”

The Democrats’ proposed House districts have population counts ranging from 92,390 (District 83) to 124,836 (District 5)—a difference of 32,446. Based on a test directed by the U.S. Supreme Court, that difference represents a total population range of 29.88 percent, which is three times the maximum range allowed by federal law. Because the Democrats’ plan unequivocally violates federal law, it is and will be declared void.

“Despite bipartisan pleas to wait for the Census number like 48 other states, Illinois Democratic politicians that were led by Governor Pritzker ignored the voting rights of their own constituents in an attempt to hold absolute power for another decade,” said Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie. “By breaking his promise and signing this map that has now been proven to be widely inaccurate, Governor Pritzker once again sided with political insiders against the people of Illinois.”

Illinois General Assembly Republicans Ask Federal Court for Summary Judgment. Following the publication of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 census data last week, which confirmed Illinois Democrats’ map included district populations three times the maximum range allowed by law, Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin filed a motion for summary judgment in federal court.

“This was quite possibly the most secretive, non-transparent process in the history of Springfield politics,” said McConchie. “The proclamation for a special session is admission that the Democrats’ enacted map was unconstitutional. Instead of ensuring the protection of Illinoisans’ voting rights, Governor Pritzker and his Democratic insiders drafted an unconstitutional map that sought to ensure their absolute power for another decade. With the data on the people’s side, we are confident the court will see through the Democrats’ charade and agree with our motion to void this map.”

The motion for summary judgment outlines that the facts and evidence presented in the case are so overwhelming that no real dispute still exists and requests an immediate ruling because a trial is no longer necessary to determine the case.

"A motion for summary judgment is filed when there is no longer a dispute over the law and the facts," Durkin said. "The release of the Census data is game-set-match against the Illinois Democrats. Now knowing that their original map is unconstitutional, the Democrats are now scrambling to draw a new backroom map on short notice. There is no way to ‘put the toothpaste back into the tube’ as discussed in our summary judgment motion.”

If the motion is granted by the court, the current plan, HB 2777, will be declared unconstitutional and void without a lengthy trial and provide an opportunity for the process to go to a bipartisan commission.

Illinois General Assembly to reconvene on final day of August. The House and Senate Democratic leaders have called a special session for Tuesday, August 31. In a key issue involving future Illinois elections, Census 2020 precinct-by-precinct data has confirmed the constitutional inadmissibility of the current redistricting maps enacted by the Democrats to elect members of the Illinois House, the Illinois Senate, and the state judiciary. Under existing State and federal law, Illinois should throw out the unconstitutional maps and move to a fast-track bipartisan process to draw new maps. However, the August 31 proclamation call asserts that the old maps can be “amended” into alleged constitutionality.

Delta variant continues march toward dominance. Illinoisans have begun hearing about a new, highly contagious version of the COVID-19 virus. Infections by the so-called “Delta variant” are now being tracked separately by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). In line with reports from other U.S. states, and with other countries around the globe, the Delta variant appears to be spreading fast. IDPH reports that two separate positivity ratios have once again risen above 5.0% in Illinois, signaling the return of active mitigation measures. Illinois mitigation measures include mandating or requiring facemasks in public places.

Experts disagree on the risk profile generated by the Delta variant to persons who have been fully vaccinated for coronavirus, particularly vaccinated individuals who maintain social distancing and wear facemasks in public. Case count diagnoses and evidence continues to mount, however, on the risks this variant presents to older Illinoisans who have not been vaccinated. IDPH continues to recommend that all eligible Illinois residents age 12 and up get vaccinated. The number of OCVID-19 deaths in Illinois has now passed 26,000, with 23,699 confirmed deaths and 2,496 probable deaths.

School mask mandates stir growing controversy. Current State of Illinois policy, set forth by executive order of Governor Pritzker, requires face coverings in all indoor Illinois school settings. While this matches the advice being given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aspects of this order are creating concern for many Illinois residents.

The mask mandate is being enforced by orders promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). This situation is creating conflict in school boards across the state. As of Thursday, August 18, thirty-two Illinois schools had publicly stated they would not follow the Governor’s mask mandate, and had been put on ISBE “probation.” In a fast-changing situation, some of these schools had taken emergency actions to comply with the mandate and be removed from probation, and other districts were stepping forward to affirm their refusals.

Observers expected litigation to result, with the courts asked to step in to decide upon an issue that now involved viruses, vaccines, face coverings, the autonomy of local school districts, the place of nonpublic schools, the lives of children, and the rights of parents.

Illinois community colleges are not covered by the existing mask mandate, but many community college boards are taking independent action to require masks on campus. For example, on Thursday, August 19 the Carterville-based John A. Logan Community College took steps to require masks on campus.

As State Fair nears closing days, plans develop for year-round use of Fairgrounds. The 2021 Illinois State Fair will close on Sunday, August 22. The State Fairgrounds, a 366-acre State of Illinois-owned tract of land on Springfield’s north side, contains large swathes of property for year-round use. Uses preferred by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which controls much of the property, include celebrations of Illinois’ culture and heritage.

The Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln has announced plans to open an open-air “Route 66 Experience.” To be built on land set aside at the Fairgrounds’ southeast corner, the Experience will enable walkers to re-enter the automotive world of the 1920s. U.S. Route 66 was designated in 1926, with the Chicago-to-St. Louis road serving as the Route’s key eastern end and segment, and the Experience will help visitors and families enjoy the sights and sounds of the first generation of American car culture.

A multi-year project, the Route 66 Experience is expected to be built as part of the preparations for the highway’s 100th birthday in 2026. The Illinois General Assembly has created the Illinois Route 66 Centennial Commission to coordinate this and other local landmarkings to celebrate the historic highway.

Unemployment rate down in July. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate fell -0.1 percentage point to 7.1 percent, while nonfarm payrolls increased +35,400 in July, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The June monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report, from +12,500 to +26,100 jobs. The June unemployment rate was unchanged from the preliminary report, remaining at 7.2 percent.

In July, the three industry sectors with the largest over-the-month gains in employment were: Leisure and Hospitality (+14,200), Educational and Health Services (+7,100), and Professional and Business Services (+4,200). The industry sectors that reported monthly payroll declines were: Financial Activities (-1,700) and Government (-300).

The state’s unemployment rate was +1.7 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for July, which was 5.4 percent, down -0.5 percentage point from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was down -4.9 percentage points from a year ago when it was at 12.0 percent.

Federal government asks states to crack down on unemployment insurance fraud. During the COVID-19 pandemic, IDES mailed out millions of dollars in unemployment insurance (UI) benefit checks to fraudulent applicants. Many of the thieves had been successful practitioners of past acts of identity theft. These thieves included entities that had stolen someone’s identity, including both names and confidential information such as Social Security numbers, prior to 2020. With resources like these in a criminal database, thieves could pretend to be “John Doe,” claim to be unemployed, and demand taxpayer money.

Illinois was not the only state with an unemployment insurance system that was hit by fraudulent activity of this type. The same sequence of frauds is estimate to have led to the payout by California of $11 billion in fraudulent UI payouts. A single stolen Social Security number is reported to have been e-used by claimants in seventeen separate states; in each state, an electronic “person” claimed to be a local unemployed person eligible for UI benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor announced this week that it would repurpose $240 million, mostly appropriated funds from the American Rescue Plan, as identity-theft-control grants to states including Illinois.

In return for Illinois’ share of the money, IDES will have to take steps to improve computer security and crack down on identity theft of this type. State agencies including IDES are characterized as having primitive software and data systems vulnerable to fraud. State-of-the-art identity verification tools, such as digital imaging requirements, could be used to reduce fraud of this type.

Flags throughout Illinois flown at half-staff this week in honor of fallen police officers. Chicago Police Department Officer Ella French was gunned down in West Englewood on Saturday, August 7. Suspects in the killing are being held without bond. The funeral Mass for Officer French, age 29, was presided over by Chicago’s Cardinal Blaise Cupich. In the same shooting incident, French’s partner, Chicago Police Officer Carlos Yanez Jr., was severely wounded. He remained hospitalized this week.

Officer French’s killing followed the death on a Mississippi River bridge of Brooklyn, Illinois police officer Brian R. Pierce Jr. The 24-year-old Southern Illinoisan was fatally hit by a motor vehicle, which had apparently been fleeing a violent incident at an Illinois nightclub. Officer Pierce was laid to rest on Saturday, August 14 in Williamson County.

Area code 464 set for installation in Chicago suburbs. The new overlay code will be used in areas currently served by the 708 area code. One of Illinois’ oldest area codes, the 708 code covers many of Chicago’s south suburbs. As with other Illinois regions, the seven-digit numbers within the 708 area code are running out. The telecom industry expects that starting in January 2022, new applicants for phone numbers within the 708 phone area will be assigned numbers starting with the new area code 464.

The addition of the 464 overlay code will be an additional reason for everyone in Illinois to get used to dialing a ten-digit phone number. The nation’s phone systems are moving toward universal ten-digits numbering because of overlay codes in many regions of the country, and to avoid electronic interference with the new 9-8-8 rapid-response number. 9-8-8 will be a three digit National Suicide Hotline number that will operate in much the same manner as the familiar 9-1-1 emergency-assistance number.